The confrontation was irresistible grist for late-night comedy hosts and tabloid headline writers: U.S. Vice-President Dan Quayle, prone to verbal gaffes and frequently the target of ridicule, attacking the moral values of a fictional television character. Speaking in San Francisco on May 19, Quayle declared that “bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong,” and went on to assail Murphy Brown, a popular TV-show character played by Candice Bergen, for choosing to have a child out of wedlock, “Quayle to Murphy —u,, Brown: Q-You tramp,’ trumpeted the New York Daily News on its front page the next day; “Murphy has a baby, Quayle has a cow,” read the Philadelphia Daily News. This became part of the American media's feverish week-long obsession with the cross fire between politics and popular culture In Washington, the bizarre drama consumed the press corps’ attention at the expense of other issues. That left Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who was visiting
Washington to deliver a tough message on trade grievances, standing uncomfortably aside for much of a joint Rose Garden news conference while the press grilled President George Bush about Quayle’s critique of Murphy Brown. Despite the President’s insistence that he was “not going to get drawn into the details of a very popular television show,” his questioners persisted. And each time Mulroney regained the platform to launch another blast at U.S. trade policy on softwood lumber or automobiles, White House reporters clicked off their tape recorders, fidgeted and appeared visibly bored. “I told you what the issue was,” Bush said to Mulroney. “You thought I was kidding. But Bush, too, seemed preoccupied by the flap. In a toast that night at a dinner at Canada’s Washington Embassy, he praised the Mulroneys and their four children as a model family.
Said Bush: “They’re a great family and, I don’t want to work Murphy Brown into this conversation, but they would be a wonderful example for many, many people.” Quayle is not the only American to warn of the social perils of the disintegrating family unit in a country where almost onequarter of all children, and 51 per cent of black children, live with a single parent. A key message of director John Singleton’s successful movie Boyz N the Hood, about the dangerous allure of gang life in Los they fathered, But by picking on a fictional character, and one who had the affluence and desire to raise a child on her own, Quayle set himself up for widespread derision. The majority of America’s unmarried mothers are young, poor and ill-educated. Said Washington Post columnist Judy Mann: “For single mothers, it’s a juggling act on a high wire, more often than not without a net. That’s reality: Murphy Brown is television.” Last week, Brian Mulroney got a look at how, in 1992 America, that line is easily blurred. BRUCE WALLACE
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